Chhurpi: Have You Tried The World’s Hardest Cheese, Yet?
Image Credit: Shutterstock, Chhurpi Cheese

Although the origin of cheese can be traced back to Egypt some 5,000 years ago, India has a plenty of cheese varieties being produced in different parts of the country. While each of the cheese types has its own uniqueness and qualities, it is Chhurpi that has landed on the global platter for its firmness. Known as the hardest cheese in the world, Chhurpi is a type of cheese that comes from the Eastern Himalayas. This Himalayan cheese is quite easy to find in the northeastern parts of the country like Sikkim, Darjeeling and McLeodganj as well as neighbouring countries like Nepal and Bhutan. In fact, this cheese has become so popular that it has also carved a market for itself in the US, Canada and Britain. It comes both as hard and soft cheese and the former is generally chewed during winters to keep the body warm. 

The mountain cheese is made with through chauri milk, which is obtained by a cross between a male yak and a female cow. It is due to this cross-mating that a unique kind of milk is produced. Another factor that lends to the distinct taste and texture of milk is because of the herbs and grass that chauri graze on. Not only is the cheese famous for its taste but also its hard texture that is influenced by the high-altitude and harsh climate of the Himalayas in which it is made. This Himalayan cheese also boasts of a high nutritional value with abundance of protein present in a single block of cheese. 

Source: Ayandrali Dutta 

The Chhurpi cheese is made by heating the milk and then removing some fat from it. To this, sour yoghurt is added and the milk is curdled. After shaping this curdled cheese into blocks, it is kept to rest for a day’s time and then rolled into cylindrical shapes. Tied down into bunches of cheese cylinders, the next step is to dry them by the fire. That’s how the Chhurpi cheese attains a smokey flavour. 

This cheese is then eaten by the locals, chewed and gnawed for hours. A single bite of Chhurpi cheese is so hard and solid that it takes quite some time to dissolve in the mouth and therefore, keeps you full for longer. The fact that Chhurpi has low moisture content makes it a long-lasting affair since you cannot bite into it directly. The saliva produced in the mouth gradually softens the cheese, which takes up a few hours. Interestingly, the hard texture of the cheese also contributes to the long shelf-life of Chhurpi. It remains suitable for eating for a few months and if it has been fermented, then the cheese can last somewhere between 6-12 months too. 

While it is a perfect snack that can be carried on a long journey without the worry of it going bad, Chhurpi is also used in making several other dishes, including curries, soups as well as with pickled vegetables like radish and cucumber. In fact, Chhurpi soup is quite popular in regions like Sikkim where the cheese is largely produced. Not only is Chhurpi really hard, it is also very dry which makes it well-suited to the high-altitude conditions of the Himalayas.